Venture Capital: A Lady’s Job?

By Allison Baum,
Badass NASA scientists Dr. Mary H. Johnston, Ann F. Whitaker and Carolyn S. Griner, and crew chief, Doris Chandler at Marshall Space Flight Centers General Purpose Laboratory in 1974.

Today, I ate my breakfast at General Assembly San Francisco, listening to Claire L. Evans talk about the untold history of badass women in technology as featured in her book Broadband.

Her key point was that, in spite of the fact it is indeed a male dominated industry, technology is not an inherently masculine endeavor. There was a time when it was actually dominated by women, probably because the core mission of technology has fundamentally female qualities. Since their origin, computers and the internet have been about building unexpected connections, democratizing access to information, and creating unprecedented opportunities. Isn’t that what women are naturally the best at? So then, why and how did technology become such a boy’s club?

In spite of spending the last six years building tech businesses across borders, this is my first time living in “the Silicon Valley” and I have spent the past few months seeing it with an outsider’s eyes. There is no doubt in my mind that the Bay Area is truly the quintessential American hotbed of entrepreneurship, the land of opportunity for wealth creation, and the birthplace of our generation’s most transformative and impactful companies. We, as venture capitalists, are meant to be the fuel for that fire.

We all know the VC industry has been under attack for being a shameless old boy’s club filled with hypocrites; an impenetrable network tasked with finding and knighting the changemakers of tomorrow, yet it still looks more like a picture of the past (read: old, male, and white). I am fully committed to changing that reality, but it will take time. In the meantime, I am wondering — how did this come to be?

After all, venture capital is about finding and empowering innovators. It is about seeing value where others do not. It is about aligning yourself with people who are smarter than you, better than you, and more determined than you. It is about putting your ego aside and working tirelessly with others to help them succeed at all costs. VC is all about nurturing deep and meaningful relationships, but it is also about ruthlessly prioritizing. It is not about the spotlight. We are not the actors on stage, we are the producers cheering them on and making shit happen behind the scenes.

Aren’t these things that come most naturally to us as women? Have we not been playing these roles for centuries in our personal lives as mothers, wives, daughters and friends? Could it be possible that venture capital is actually, inherently, a lady’s job?

I’d like to think so. But, either way, there’s no reason why it should be dominated by men. Or anyone, for that matter. This is certainly one corner of the world where it should be an asset to be different.


Venture Capital: A Lady’s Job? was originally published in Fusion by Fresco Capital on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Education is eating the world

By Allison Baum,

Five years ago, when we first started talking about investing in and building a truly global edtech ecosystem, a lot of people thought we were crazy. Though I had brought General Assembly from New York to Asia, we had made several cross-border edtech investments from our first fund at Fresco Capital, and we helped those investments make their first international footprints, many potential investors insisted that education was an inherently localized problem. Edtech lacks scale, liquidity, and cross-border appeal, they insisted.

At the time, there was no argument the edtech ecosystem was in its early stages. But having spent time on the ground as operators, founders, and investors, we could see where it was going. So, we started evangelizing. We collected data points, distilled them into trends, published articles, outlined the key ingredients for a global edtech ecosystem, and spoke to hundreds of startup founders and corporate LPs about the value of an international strategy in edtech. We talked to anyone that would listen, and in the process, we launched two funds comprised of some of the most forward thinking corporate LPs interested in edtech and the future of work. Then, we built a portfolio of 60 companies from all around the world, and now have 7 successful exits from that portfolio.

In 2017, I outlined two major predictions for the following year, which were a pick up in cross-border M&A, and edtech going mainstream. Indeed, with three major exits announced these past few weeks — NetDragon buying Edmodo for US$137.5 million, Adecco buying General Assembly for $413 million, and finally Pluralsight filing for their IPO — this marks an exciting milestone for the evolution of an ecosystem we’ve so passionately played a role in building. So, I figured this would be a good time to pause, summarize what we’ve learned so far, and speculate on where we might be going next.

Here are 3 key lessons we’ve learned so far:

1. Investing early makes a big difference

I’ve talked to a lot of corporates and investors who believe that edtech is risky, so instead of investing in a portfolio of early stage companies, they’d rather make direct investments in later stage startups that have “proven” their business model. However, what recent exits have made clear is that the stage and the terms at which you invest make a big difference for your returns.

To quote one of the greatest hockey players of all time, Wayne Gretzky, “Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

Especially when it comes to edtech, the market is rapidly growing and also rapidly evolving. That means investing in the right team at the early stage pays off.

For example, General Assembly’s Series A post-money valuation was US$20 million. For us early stakeholders, a US$413 million exit is a huge win. However, later stage investors are facing much less impressive returns. Yes, investing early is risky and the total capital deployed is smaller, but the return profile is significantly better.

2. A cross-border strategy pays off

All three of these companies had international strategies that directly contributed to their growth as well as their exit profiles.

Pluralsight expanded aggressively internationally, beating competitors to the punch by localizing their offerings and selling courses in places like India. This helped diversify their revenue base, solidify a larger overall market size, and create a stickier brand. Surely this led to their options for liquidity and contributed to their recent S-1 filing.

Similarly, General Assembly expanded early on into London, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Sydney. Not only did this contribute to a strong, global brand that differentiated versus competitors, but also led to the development of strategic, international corporate relationships with customers and partners like Switzerland-based Adecco.

Edmodo had boots on the ground in Asia from very early on, and welcomed investors from Singapore and Japan into their later rounds of funding. NetDragon, based in China, ultimately acquired them, so there is little doubt that their presence in Asia had an impact on their ultimate exit.

3. Cross-sector partnerships are the most fruitful

Many edtech founders believe that their ideal partners are traditional education companies. Similarly, many traditional education companies are only looking to invest in and partner with startups in edtech. We have always been of the view that creativity is a key ingredient for scale, and the isolation of the edtech sector will only hinder its growth.

Indeed, through our experience as entrepreneurs, operators, and VCs, it is clear that the most productive partnerships are cross-industry. If you work with a partner not in the traditional education business, you are creating new possibilities for both of you. This means you are not competing for the same customer base, but instead opening up new customer segments for both parties. Consequently you are more like to have an open, collaborative partnership. It also means the multiples on your acquisition are likely going to be higher, as they represent completely new revenue streams and business lines for your new partner.

NetDragon is a China-based gaming company, and though Edmodo’s ultimate acquisition price may seem low compared to their later rounds of funding, the multiple on their revenue base is remarkable. Similarly for General Assembly, Adecco is a Switzerland-based HR/staffing firm, and not a traditional education business. At first glance, these aren’t the most logical partnerships, but they certainly have proven to be rewarding.

So, now that edtech is going cross-border, and cross-sector, you might be asking yourself… what’s next? Here’s what I think.

Here’s why education is eating the world

In 2011, Marc Andreessen made a splash by declaring that “software is eating the world.” In 2018, as a direct result of that assertion, education is eating the world. Back in the early days of the internet, and even when Marc first published his post, technology companies were considered to be a separate sector. This was largely due to the fact that barriers to integrating technology into your core business were high. However, as technology became cheaper and more advanced, billions of people came online via their mobile phones, demand for online services exploded, and software made its way into every business model. Today, no matter what your core product is — healthcare, financial, utilities, energy — there is a technology component. Every company, in some form, is a technology company.

Similar to the evolution of the technology sector, there will be a day in the near future when education is no longer a separate sector, but instead a layer that sits on top of every type of business. You see, every company is a technology company, and therefore every business is becoming a technology business. As a direct result, every job is a technology job. Technology is evolving at an exponential rate. Jobs and businesses have not only been transformed, but they are continuing to change at a rate faster than ever before. This requires companies to create a process for constant adaptation in order to remain competitive, productive, and profitable. (And this is precisely why Adecco, an HR/staffing firm, sees value in acquiring a business like General Assembly.) Every company must, in some form, become an education company.

At an individual level, since jobs are evolving so quickly, regular retraining is necessary. As a result, education can no longer remain a distinct portion of our early years. Instead, it must be integrated across all aspects of our lives and over the course of an entire lifetime. Day in and day out, we must constantly be learning if we are to remain competitive and productive members of society. Hell, given the recent scandals with cybersecurity and data privacy, we have to constantly be learning if we want to simply avoid being manipulated or hacked.

Given our education system has been largely unchanged for hundreds of years, the decentralization and globalization of education is a significant cultural shift that will take time to play out. I still meet people who assume “education” means K-12. However, there are early signs that this perception is changing. We’re already seeing cracks in the demand for tertiary degrees, increasing acceptance of vocational training programs, and a more informed, globally mobile student base. Instead of continuing to question whether or not edtech is a sizable opportunity, let’s seek to understand how technology is transforming businesses, jobs, and individuals’ lives worldwide, and what that means for how we will all need to adapt to that reality.

That’s what edtech is really about, and that’s why at Fresco, we’re putting our money toward investing in technology not just for education, but also the future of work, and healthcare. If we embrace a constant state of learning, then we will not only be able to keep up with how technology is inevitably disrupting every aspect of our lives, but we can also empower the next generation of innovative solutions to the world’s biggest problems.


Education is eating the world was originally published in Fusion by Fresco Capital on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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3 Rules for Digital Health in a Digital Society

By Tytus Michalski,
Photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash

Digital society has already arrived for billions of people, but the implementation of digital health is just beginning.

We’re now starting to understand which digital solutions can help solve healthcare issues, like tracking digital biomarkers for example. We’re also realizing that our digital society can create new healthcare problems. Brain hacking?

If we ignore the critical gap between digital society and digital health, it will only grow over time. The ideas below put an emphasis on being proactive.

1. Prevent upstream digital health problems.

It took time, but we’re making progress in dealing with upstream problems such tobacco, environmental toxins, and food safety. There are also far-reaching challenges upstream when it comes to digital society.

This includes health issues related to social networks, digital devices, and artificial intelligence. When the business models of these industries conflict with healthcare outcomes of society, the business models will win.

While there are still not enough research studies, the ones that have been completed are coming up with some disturbing results.

“All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness. Eighth-graders who spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56 percent more likely to say they’re unhappy than those who devote less time to social media.” — Jean M. Twenge

The above analysis is related to The Monitoring the Future survey, designed to be nationally representative in the US, with more than 1,000 questions for 12th-graders every year since 1975 and eighth graders since 1991.

One of the additional challenges with the digital world is that we should expect legal rules to be consistently behind the curve. Regulators are currently not equipped with the right skills, incentives, and resources to keep up with changes in digital technology.

Thus it is up to the private sector, both consumers and businesses, to be proactive. Tech employees are starting non-profits focused on identifying potential harm of digital platforms. Business leaders are taking a stand about digital advertising. Investors are communicating that social purpose must be tied to profits. We need more of all of the above — being passive is not a solution.

2. Avoid private sector monopolies for public goods.

Healthcare companies save millions of lives every year. That shouldn’t stop us from identifying clear evidence of business model misalignment which can lead to adverse health outcomes, even death. This challenge already exists in healthcare, and it is absolutely relevant for digital health.

The history of patent law describes a very complicated balance between stakeholders. Most people want innovation. There is disagreement on the right mix of incentives.

As part of this debate, it’s always important to check on the final results. The story of rising insulin prices in the US is one example. A quick glance at the chart below makes it clear that the current mix of incentives is not leading to desired outcomes. The system is being gamed.

Image credit: Truven Health Analytics and Business Insider

It’s easy to blame the companies, and they are absolutely part of the problem. They are also responding to the incentives of the system.

With digital health, this challenge becomes even more relevant because digital health products and services should be highly deflationary over time. If we see rising prices for digital health services in the future, that would be a massive failure of incentives.

A single private company owning a patent on a multi-billion dollar revenue life-saving treatment is a private sector monopoly resulting in less competition. When the state uses its powers of coercion to enforce this patent, it makes a value judgement that society is better off in having a private sector monopoly instead of competition. Given the long history of abuse by private sector monopolies across a wide variety of businesses, we typically expect a high level of price regulation to accompany monopoly power, and healthcare should not be exempt.

Many life-saving drugs were initially supported through government funded research. The pricing of these drugs has a massive impact on the healthcare outcomes. And we know that a monopoly will naturally lead to overpricing precisely because of a lack of competition. So at the very least, the burden of proof should be on the company to maintain a monopoly, not society. Also, it would be incompetent for society to outsource the pricing of drugs to monopoly holders of patents.

This logic applies to the owners of digital health patents, except with even more potential for misalignment. The burden of proof for digital health patents should be extremely high, not low.

Moreover, once a digital health patent is granted, that monopoly pricing power needs to be regulated. In the digital world, it’s not enough to expect modest price inflation. We know that competition in the digital world results in severe price deflation and this should be the benchmark for any price regulation of digital health monopolies.

3. Ensure user friendly data portability.

Forgetting about distribution channels is easy. In the digital world, however, these channels have direct relationships with customers, and importantly also customer data. Digital super-aggregators enjoy some of the most influential market power ever witnessed in the history of business.

Image credit: Ben Thompson, Stratechery.com

There are already problems in healthcare with the market power enjoyed by distribution channels. The potential for abuse of power in digital health distribution is even more significant. It’s mostly a good thing that companies like Amazon are entering healthcare aggressively. But let’s not assume that the company and others will be immune from increasing market power.

Specifically, we need to have more clarity about healthcare data portability. It’s tempting to use the word healthcare data ownership, but the topic is not that simple. There is a difference between ownership, control, and privacy. While the infrastructure and nuances of those issues will need time to sort out, the most obvious starting point is data portability.

Patients should have the right to access and transfer the data being gathered about their health. This will become even more important in the future as the amount of passively collected digital healthcare data will increase exponentially. If an algorithm is analyzing your health from a video camera recording, does the algorithm need your permission? Would you want the right to access that data output if you choose?

Regulators will be way behind the curve on this issue. In addition, most users of healthcare are likely to choose convenience over control. At the very least, we need to ensure that there is an option for user-friendly digital data portability if someone decides to switch health providers.

Moving forward

When it comes to digital healthcare, we can’t wave a magic wand and say “let the government deal with it, it’s not my problem.”

It would also be irresponsible to take the view that large companies will solve these challenges on their own.

All stakeholders have to work together for meaningful progress in digital healthcare. It’s part of Capitalism 2.0 where we all have a role as patients, healthcare specialists, caregivers, employees, public servants, non-profit leaders, business executives, startup founders, social impact innovators, and investors.


3 Rules for Digital Health in a Digital Society was originally published in Fusion by Fresco Capital on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Fresco Capital Corporate Innovation 2017 Playbook

By Fusion by Fresco Capital,

The days of a single management guru having a neat and tidy model of corporate innovation are long gone. For 2017, any company serious about innovation must constantly be scanning the landscape from diverse sources. To help you get a head start on your 2017 corporate innovation plans, we’ve compiled the best ideas all in one playbook covering the following topics:

  1. Corporate Innovation Strategy
  2. Engaging the Ecosystem
  3. Innovation as DNA

 

1. Corporate Innovation Strategy

 

How should companies approach innovation in an unstable world?

“Every contemporary company has to be a balanced mix of established products and new products that are searching for profitable business models.” — Tendayi Viki

Tendayi introduces a useful five part framework for how established companies can manage the inherent tension of managing both established products and new innovation. Read more…

How to set up a corporate innovation outpost?

“Successful Innovation Outposts typically develop over a period of time through three stages. In the first stage the Outpost focusses on networking and partnering in the Innovation Cluster in which it is based (i.e. Silicon Valley, Boston). In the second stage, it moves into Investing, Inventing, Incubating and Acquiring technologies and companies, and in the third stage building product(s).” —Steve Blank

Steve shares the details of the three stages of setting up a corporate innovation outpost, including key questions and milestones. Read more…

Is your innovation outpost working?

“You have no dedicated system for keeping track of startup ecosystem interactions and information.” — Tytus Michalski

Tytus reviews this and four more warning signs about innovation strategy and outposts along with the solutions for how to fix these problems. Read more…

 

2. Engaging the Ecosystem

 

Why should large companies work with startups?

“The most innovative companies are also the most valuable.” — Kite

Both the data and the anecdotal stories combine for compelling evidence that the most innovative companies are engaging proactively with startups in many ways to create more value for all stakeholders. Read more…

How to build a successful innovation ecosystem?

“Just as momentum is the product of mass and velocity, the ecosystem with the most participants and fastest turnover of ideas will be the most successful.” — Martin Curley

Martin provides case studies, context and 12 principles for successful ecosystem innovation across companies, customers and other partners. Read more…

Where are the opportunities in the global ecosystem?

 “We love small businesses, we love young people, and we love women.” — Jack Ma

Jack Ma shares his views on global ecosystem opportunities and more during an interview with Stanford GSB. Read more…

 

3. Innovation as DNA

 

How to innovate like Google?

“To better understand how Google innovates, I took a close look at what it’s doing in one area: Deep Learning.” — Greg Satell

Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Greg uses Deep Learning at Google as a specific case study to learn about how the company has put innovation at the core of its DNA. Read more…

How to get started with intrapreneurship?

“Never before has there been such a push for employees to take ownership of their own corner of a company.” — Alyson Krueger

Alyson provides examples of intrapreneurship, overall context about why more employees are interested in this option and the benefits for companies. Read more…

What will change most in the next 10 years?

“That’s a good question. But a better question is: What’s not going to change in the next 10–20 years?” — Jeff Bezos

Peter Diamandis highlights this important point by Jeff Bezos about focusing resources on high conviction trends, and expands with his own ideas about what won’t change even in an unstable world. Read more…

What other content do you highly recommend about corporate innovation?

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An Expat VC on the US Election: Why, How, and What Now?

By Fusion by Fresco Capital,

As an American living abroad, I have been shielded from a lot of the insanity of this year’s election, but even sitting here in Tokyo, halfway across the world, the vitriol and frustration is palpable. Sure, the Presidential Election in the United States is always charged with emotion, but as almost anyone who has voted in multiple election cycles would agree, this year is particularly heated.

People have said harsh goodbyes to friends, unable to empathise with their choices. Families have lost touch, fearful of the difficult conversations that would ensue if the topic of politics were to be broached (I’m sad to say I speak from personal experience on that one). The very foundation of the Two Party System has been irrevocably damaged. The question of what it really means to be an American remains up for debate.

One thing is clear: Shit is broken. The world we lived in previously has changed. The American Dream used to be: work hard in school, get good grades, go to college, get a good job, find a wife who will take care of your house, buy a house, work hard, rise in the ranks, save your money, provide your children with a better life than you had, rinse, repeat. Sorry guys (yes, I mean guys), no can do.

For most people, that is no longer an option. College doesn’t guarantee you a job anymore (trust me, even a Harvard degree is worth less than it used to be). And even if it does get you a job, your job has probably started to be replaced by technology. Entire companies are being dismantled, so the idea of a long-term career at one company is rare. Most women don’t want to be just wives anymore, nor do they have to be. As the Great Financial Crisis taught us so painfully, houses don’t always go up in value, so they are not a safe investment anymore. Interest rates are zero, so saving doesn’t do you much good either. So… yeah, shit is broken. The promises we were sold have turned out to be empty, and it’s not really anyone’s fault, either. It just is.

Sure, we can try to put it all back together again. Go ahead and try. Even if that were possible, it still wouldn’t work again. Why, you ask? But why, can’t we just go back to the glory days? One word: technology. Technology has not only changed the world, but it has changed how fast the world changes. As our most recent Nobel Prize winner, Bob Dylan, so eloquently pointed out… “The times they are a’changing.” And they’re changing faster than ever before.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of the Black Swan, wrote a fantastic book called Antifragile. I have a short attention span, so I’m not going to lie to you, I only read half of it. But the takeaway is this; Fragility is when you break something, and you cannot repair it. Resilience is when you break something, and it can return to its previous state. Antifragility (the best way to be), is when you break something, and it returns to an even better state, more powerful and strong than before it was broken.

I can only hope that part of what makes America great is that we are the definition of antifragile. We need to have faith in our ability to heal these rifts that emerged from the US election, to face the difficult conversations that must take place, and to emerge a stronger, more informed, more creative, and more antifragile nation than we were before.

Doing that, however, requires us to take a step back, to set aside our emotions, and to take a deep look at the incredibly valuable and previously unseen information revealed by this election. So let’s remove the emotion, take a quick look at the facts brought to light by this year’s Presidential Saga, and dedicate ourselves to building something better in its wake.

What have we learned?

Technology has forever changed how we, as individuals, make decisions.

We used to live in a world where information was difficult to access, and we relied on key institutions like the political parties, the media (newspapers, TV personalities), academic and religious institutions to tell us what we needed to know to make an informed decision.

Now, we get our information from the internet. Anyone can read about the candidates online, anyone can publish their opinion, anyone can state a “fact”, or share their emotional reactions. We have become infinite information consumers and producers.

As a result, it has been shown that our grip on the truth is loosening. Our willingness to hear arguments counter to our own beliefs is weakening. Our strength to overcome our own biases is diminishing.

The systems that have kept our world stable have not gotten the memo.

The key systems and infrastructure which shape our lives were all created in a time before technology existed. The idea that we would be meeting our mates on Tinder, sharing our momentary thoughts and emotions on Facebook, carpooling to work in a stranger’s car, or tracking our daily food intake and steps on an app were completely unfathomable at the time of their creation.

So, where does it all break down? Jobs. The systems that support the world as we know it can be broken down as follows: corporations that provide us with jobs, education which prepares us for those jobs, the government which protects those jobs and protects us if we don’t have jobs. (Ben Thompson writes brilliantly on this system here, if you’re interested in learning more how this system was created and why.)

As technology accelerates, companies are being forced to adapt to increase margins, productivity, and profits for investors. As a result, jobs are being automated. Because technology evolves faster than we can learn, or the education system can provide us with relevant skills, we are losing our jobs. People without jobs are angry, disappointed, disenchanted, and scared. Not a good equation for an election, or for anything for that matter.

It is up to us to rebuild those systems in a way that will last.

Technology is not a trend. It is not a sector. It is an inevitable force redefining the world in every way. This will not change, it will only accelerate. As outlined by the concept of singularity, the rate of change of technology will only get faster and faster. This unleashes unfathomable potential, but can also be disastrous if we don’t create a system that can keep up.

This brings us back to the concept of antifragility. We can’t simply repair our broken systems. We can’t simply aim for resilience. The only option is to imagine and re-build the world on a foundation that gains from change, and as a result, actually gets stronger over time.

Okay, fine. But what can we do about it now?

First, we have to stop wishing for “the way things were” and start taking a deep look at how we can start rebuilding a world that fits today’s reality. Because of technology, we are living in a world where we have unprecedented power as individuals. Yes, that is terrifying. But it’s also fucking awesome, because it means we all matter and we all have a role to play.

I continue to believe the only way for each of us to start making a difference is through education. Whether this is in K-12, universities, corporate training, online platforms, whatever. A few ideas:

  • Educate individuals on how to find, assess, and synthesize what is valid information and what is not.
  • Encourage empathy so that we have the discipline and intellectual strength to accommodate the views of others.
  • Raise awareness around our inherent biases so we know how to truly listen and learn.
  • Create ways that professionals can continually learn new skills, quickly and efficiently, so we can always find jobs.
  • Provide access to information about what jobs are available, and what we need to be get them.

The list goes on and on. Everyone needs to play their part, but first they need the tools that empower them to do so.

I am personally dedicated to doing whatever I can to help rebuild the systems that shape our world (not just America). That’s why we created Fresco Capital, where we are investing in the technology transforming these very sectors that need serious upgrades: education technology, work technology, digital healthcare. But that’s just one small part of a much bigger, more important picture of creating a new future.

So… let’s stop whining about this fucking disaster of an election and get started.

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Why You Should Start Experimenting with AR and VR Today

By Fusion by Fresco Capital,

Those of us paying attention all knew it was only a matter of time before augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) became mainstream. Now, thanks to the rise of Oculus Rift and Pokémon Go, we’re beginning to arrive at that point.

First, some brief definitions so we are on the same page:

  • Virtual reality is technology that generates a three-dimensional digital environment, tricking users into “believing” they’re inside that environment when interacting with the technology. MarketsandMarkets says the VR market will grow 57.8% each year between now and 2022. The market realized $1.37 billion in 2015 and is projected to bring in$33.9 billion by 2022.

If you or your company is in any position to create AR and VR products, now’s the time to get started. Even if you fail during your first attempt, you’ll get a head start on claiming as big a chunk of the AR and VR pies as you can.

I Couldn’t Jump

I am advising a company in the space, so recently I was lucky enough to visit an AR/VR accelerator and interact with the exciting new technologies that many businesses are building. I started playing with the Oculus Rift and thought it was pretty cool. I also got to try an HTC Vive (which I liked much better). Even though I knew what I was seeing was a digitalized environment, I wouldn’t “jump off of a cliff” when presented with the opportunity. It all seemed too real. Psychologically, I couldn’t do it.

My experiences, coupled with the media frenzy over Pokémon Go — which provides the first mainstream AR experience — have led me to one conclusion: you need to simply get involved and start building products now, rather than later. Because there’s really no such thing as failure in this case.

If you fail, it’ll probably be because the market isn’t big enough and the tech isn’t as popular as it will be one day. But you can learn from those shortcomings. And in two or three years when the market is booming, you’ll succeed because you’ll have learned a ton of helpful lessons while failing.

An Enormous Opportunity

Pokémon Go represents a breakout moment for augmented reality. But we’re still in the super-early stages of seeing the true power of the technology. It’s where mobile was when Michael Douglas was blabbing on an enormous cell phone in Wall Street.

So before you get turned off on AR because of how annoying you perceive Pokémon Go to be, it’s worth your while to consider how the technology can transform your company. If you’re a startup founder, there’s a good chance your first stab at AR or VR will be unsuccessful. But three to five years from now, you’ll be in one of the best positions to build the technology.

Need more convincing? F1 recently signed a deal that will allow its races to be streamed via VR devices. Racing fans will be able to see the course as if they were sitting in the driver’s seat themselves (which might be a way for racing to attract new fans — folks who previously couldn’t understand the sport’s appeal).

Despite these breakthroughs, there are very few masters of AR and VR technologies right now. Developers are going to AR/VR hackathons to learn more skills. The industry isn’t yet full of geniuses who are building the surefire next big thing.

But it will be sometime in the near future.

If you’re a technical startup person interested in the space, go out and start turning your AR and VR ideas into reality. While it might not be monetarily successful for you right off the bat, your efforts will undoubtedly help AR and VR technologies move forward. As an added bonus, you’ll become more intimate with the space — which should put you in a great position to claim a big chunk of the market through your subsequent AR and VR efforts.

First Photo by flickr user UTKnightCenter

Second Photo by Stephen Forte

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